[I recently read the book Eating Bull, by Carrie Rubin. I loved it, and contacted the author. She very kindly agreed to be interviewed about her work. Enjoy!]
BG: I’ll start at the beginning: how did you get the idea for “Eating Bull”? Did the idea just come to you one day, did some specific incident suggest it, or…?
CR: A little bit of both. Overweight/obesity is a professional interest of mine. I’ve dealt with it in both a clinical and research setting. Many people assume a large BMI means a lack of willpower, but that’s both inaccurate and unfair. Many other factors come into play, especially our disastrous food environment where processed food, mega-sizes, and sugar-laden junk bombard us wherever we go.
Through fiction, I wanted to bring the issue of the food industry’s role in obesity to light. Plenty of nonfiction books exist on the topic, but with fiction you get an emotional element as well.
As for a specific incident, several years ago a tearful, severely overweight adolescent sat on my exam table and said: “Not a day goes by I don’t know I’m fat, because no one will let me forget it.” That was the catalyst for my teenage protagonist.
BG: The book has three “starring” characters, each of whom represents a different view on the roles of the individual and society in causing obesity. Can you discuss these viewpoints a little, and also how you balanced the amount of page time devoted to each? Was it difficult to strike that balance?
CR: I wanted to represent three viewpoints, from one extreme to the other, all of which exist in our society:
My secondary protagonist, a social-justice-seeking public health nurse, represents the viewpoint that society plays a huge role in our weight gain and must take responsibility.
My villain, an obsessive-compulsive fitness fanatic, believes obesity is entirely the individual’s fault and takes it upon himself to rid the world of “undisciplined sheep” … in a very bloody way.
My primary hero, an overweight teenager, falls somewhere in between, representing the viewpoint that both the individual and society play a role, but that society must make changes so that it’s easier for the individual to change too.
As for the number of pages devoted to each, I simply shifted to a new viewpoint with each chapter, rotating the characters on a regular basis, each carrying the story forward according to his or her point-of-view.
BG: Regarding the villain of the story, Darwin: He’s really a repulsive and terrifying character, but you also show just enough of a glimpse of his past to make the reader feel a little sorry for him at the same time. He seems genuinely mentally ill, rather than just a caricature of a psycho killer–I loved that. Any observations (or advice) on writing plausible, well-rounded villains?
CR: Villains are tricky to write. They can easily become one-dimensional. Rounding them out into full-fledged characters with likable—or at least relatable—traits is difficult, and I have a ways to go before I master that skill.
Darwin’s pretty despicable, but I tried to create backstory that would explain how he got that way. This proved even trickier considering I hid his identity until the climax. I had to flesh out his character without giving away who he was. That adds an element of mystery to the thriller and hopefully keeps the reader guessing until the end.
BG: I could go on forever about how much I liked the characters in “Eating Bull”. Expanding from just Darwin, what are your techniques on writing characters generally? Apart from the three starring characters, did you also write the supporting cast to reflect the central theme of the novel?
CR: Before I even start my outline, I define my main characters: their likes, dislikes, dreams, goals, mannerisms, etc. Characters drive the plot, so I like to have a firm grasp on them before I start much story planning.
As for the supporting cast, I usually have them in mind before I begin, but they tend to blossom as I go along. In Eating Bull I did indeed write some minor characters to reflect the central theme: the bullying grandfather and classmate, the unsupportive boyfriend who dislikes overweight people, the dietician and fitness coach who guide my main character toward his goal.
Some of the supportive characters heap a world of hurt on my teenage protagonist, but I wanted to reflect real life. In my research for the book, I attended a seminar in which the focus was to highlight the frequent fat-shaming that goes on in our society—including from the healthcare industry—and to shift the onus from weight loss to size acceptance. The tales the speakers told of the shaming they experience on a regular basis, from acquaintances and strangers alike, horrified me. I knew I needed to have my character experience the same thing if I wanted to be honest to the theme.
BG: What is the central message you want readers to take away from “Eating Bull”?
CR: I’ve already touched on that somewhat, but the main takeaway is: weight gain and loss isn’t as simple as calories in minus calories out. There are many other factors in the equation, including hormones, biological determinants, neurochemicals associated with addiction, socialization of food, poverty, food environment, built environments (poor walkability of a city, food deserts, etc.), and yada yada yada.
I could go on and on, but the point is, changes need to be made at all of these levels if we want to see real progress. Expecting the individual to do it alone hasn’t worked too well for us so far. It’s time to up our game.
BG: So, not to spoil anything, but you’ve mentioned you are working on another book. Any hints as to what to expect from it?
CR: I’m often reluctant to discuss my unpublished works (worried I’ll jinx things, perhaps?), but I can tell you my latest completed manuscript is a medical thriller with supernatural elements. There is no shortage of medical thrillers out there, so I like to change things up a bit. It’s pretty much ready to go, and I’ve just completed the first draft of the second in the series. I’d like to write at least three novels with the same recurring characters—maybe more—but each book will be a complete stand-alone.
BG: What other authors have influenced you, either in writing style or in genre/subject matter?
CR: I always get nervous with this question, because I worry I should list a number of literary greats, but that’s not how it is for me. I’m all about the storyteller.
In my teen years, Stephen King was a huge influence on me. More than just be a writer, I wanted to be a storyteller, and to me he’s one of the best. JK Rowling is in that category too—a gifted storyteller—and if I can match a fraction of their skill I’ll be happy.
In terms of writing medical thrillers, Robin Cook was my first influencer, and while his writing might sometimes get panned, he knows how to weave a good tale. I’m easy to please and can overlook a lot. Give me a story I can get lost in and you’ve got me as a fan forever.
Before I go, Berthold, I want to thank you for your support of my novel and for interviewing me on your blog. It’s a pleasure to be here and I enjoyed answering your questions!
BG: My pleasure. Thank you for your thoughtful and informative answers!
[Carrie Rubin is a physician, public health advocate and the author of medical thrillers Eating Bull and The Seneca Scourge. You can find her books here, and also be sure to check out her website and social media pages.]
Thanks again, Berthold! Very kind of you to interview me.
You are very welcome! Your answers were great–thanks so much for taking the time to do it. 🙂
Great interview, it was good to find out more about the background to Eating Bull and get a hint of Carrie’s new novel.
Thank you, Andrea, and thanks for stopping by.
Great interview. And a really good book — The characters are believable and the story is important. We don’t need to supersize everything the way our society does.
It’s crazy, isn’t it? I was at Barnes & Noble this weekend and got the craving for a sugar cookie. I went to their snack bar and found cookies as big as my face. The sugar cookie was listed as 500 calories. I decided it wasn’t worth it. Another reason why calorie labeling is so important. Some of us DO make menu choices based on them. But sadly, that’s yet another thing this administration has delayed. Luckily, some restaurants have already done it. I hope they don’t take them off now that the law has once again been pushed off.
Stepping off my soapbox now…
Maybe you should write a book …
Great interview! I like how the questions show how much you loved the book while bringing out some of the best parts.
Carrie – That must have been heartbreaking when your patient said that to you. I can see why you wrote Eating Bull. I loved the story and the characters – my heart completely went out to Jeremy just as yours must have gone out to your patient. I’m looking forward to the thriller with supernatural elements!
Thanks, Sheila (and thank you for the Twitter share too!). It was indeed heartbreaking, enough so that it stuck in my head all these years. After that seminar I attended, I actually went back to the manuscript and made things a little tougher for Jeremy. The speakers at the conference mentioned how complete strangers, not to mention family members, would come up to them and say horrible things. It was eye-opening for sure.
Wonderful and insightful interview, Carrie. I very much enjoyed Eating Bull, and so did my daughter who works in health care (she bought her own copy!). I look forward to your new projects.
Thanks, Jennifer! How nice to hear your daughter enjoyed it too. 🙂
Wow. You really use an outline. It was interesting to see how you conceived and built up all the pieces. I’m jealous. I never succeeded in working from an outline – although I tried. And then you do research too. Very impressive. An interesting twist to call your villain Darwin. Cheers!
Thank you! I’m all about outlining. I like to plan my scenes out so I can make sure the tension will always be building. That doesn’t mean I can’t change things–I often do–but it’s easier for me to change them in the first draft stage than somewhere else down the road. Thanks for reading!
The more I hear about the book, the more intrigued I am.
Thank you. 🙂
Great interview! So interesting that you develop your characters ahead of the plot, Carrie.
I think it’s that perfectionist side of me. I like to know who I’m dealing with before I dump them into chaos. 😄
I didn’t realize that villains were difficult to write. I always figured that’s where you, as an author, get to vent your own passive-aggressive agenda. Great interview.
They’re easy to write if you just want them to be evil. It’s making them human with relatable traits that can be tricky. Think Hannibal Lecter. He’s hideous, but Thomas Harris made him more human by having him be so sophisticated and intelligent and a connoisseur of many things. Of course, then he ate his victims…
Great interview! Oh that poor young man. I can see why he stayed with you over the years, Carrie. That’s heartbreaking. By the way, I loved the frogs. 🙂
Yes, it was very heartbreaking. And thank you. Pixabay is a great place to get free-use photos. Most of them you can modify too (like I did 🙂 ).
It’s such a well thought out title and so brave of you to tackle this food dilema…I hope you spread more awareness and that more people are really reading labels on “food.” HAPPY writing your next one!
Thank you! I’ve been so disheartened to see menu-labeling and food-labeling changes being delayed yet again. They were set to go into effect, and now they’ve been postponed thanks to lobbying by Big Food. So frustrating.
Excellent interview, Carrie and Berthold. I’m excited for the new book. Another thriller with supernatural elements? I’m already hooked.
Thank you. 🙂
Ohhh I’m excited to read this medical thriller Carrie is working on when it releases 🙂 Great questions, Berthold
Thanks, Christy, and thanks for the Twitter share too!
I loved that part of your villain, Carrie–that you showed us some of the reason why he is who he is. Like dogs, I don’t think people (either) are born bad.
Excellent interview. It’s so interesting to see behind the curtain of an author’s writing.
Thanks, Jacqui. I wonder what Otto would have thought of Darwin. 😉
Absolutely fantastic interview. I read Carrie!s Eating Bull soon after it was released and was blown away by it. Immediately reviewed it on Amazon and have been waiting for her next book since. Supernatural medical thriller! I just can’t wait. Thanks to both of you for this interview. XO
Thanks for reading, Pamela, and thank you for your support of my book. Much appreciated!
You are welcome–but all the credit goes to Carrie; she had some really thoughtful answers.
I’ve been following Carrie’s blog for a while, but I really enjoyed this interview with her. You asked great questions, the kind that encourage thoughtful answers. I always love learning about a writer’s process and influences. Her expertise and passion for her topic glow. Thank you, Berthold, and best wishes to Carrie.
Glad you enjoyed it!
Thank you, Sharon!
Carrie as you know I loved this book. You know when you don’t want an eleven hour plane ride to end because you’ll have to stop reading a book must be beyond excellent. Always love hearing more about how Eating Bull came to life.
Thank you, Sue! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. With as many plane rides as you take, I know you could read anything, so the fact you chose my book makes me so happy. Happy travels to you!
Reblogged this on BKNOVELIST.
Huge fan of Carrie and her work. Eating Bull was fantastic! Admittedly, I was skeptical going in; I’m not a big fan of thrillers. But Eating Bull yanks you in and keeps you there. Wonderful interview, and look at how Carrie works.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the interview. Carrie is a terrific writer; it was a real treat to interview her.
Blushing. Thank you. 😊
Thank you, Dawn! I appreciate your support and your kind words. Thanks for stopping by!
Terrific Q&A! Carrie’s a great writer and I’m glad to gain more behind the scenes info on her book!
Thank you, Kourtney. Much appreciated!